So, what IS a good starting point bike?
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So, what IS a good starting point bike?

This is a discussion on So, what IS a good starting point bike? within the Technical forums, part of the Caferacer.net Forums category; Hello everyone, I live in North Dakota and the winters get very long. I've thought for a long time about building a cafe racer and ...

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  1. #1
    Junior Member BadCompany's Avatar
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    So, what IS a good starting point bike?

    Hello everyone,

    I live in North Dakota and the winters get very long. I've thought for a long time about building a cafe racer and am ready to pull the trigger this year. If I can't be riding motorcycle in the winter, why not build one?
    So I've been "lurking" on this forum for awhile now unregistered and have ready a fair amount of posts and threads. Let me also qualify that I've searched for a thread like this but perhaps I didn't use the correct words.
    Anyway! So....What IS a good bike to use to turn into a cafe? Because I have until the end of next month, I feel like I'm able to be pretty choosy in what I buy. I'm willing to have a bike shipped or travel to get it myself if necessary. Even locally there's some pretty good bikes I can get for cheap - IE a 1983 KZ550, a 1978 Honda CX500, and a 1982 Yamaha Seca 550.
    Thing is, I know people say a Maxim isn't a good starting point, and a lot of people hate on CX500's, and I've also read that some people like Yamaha Seca's, but at other times, I've read that same person doesn't think Yamaha Seca's are good. I also have read people both hate on and love BMW R series bikes.
    I'm sure the next question is, "well, what do you want to do with it?!"
    Well, I own a new sportbike so I don't need to exactly chase 911's and F430's with this cafe racer and I don't need to be able to drag my shoulder in turns, but I'd like it to be relatively sporty (as sporty as a ~30 year old bike can be). I have a decent amount of money to chuck at it, but I don't want to totally overhaul the bike either. I'd like it to be able to handle well without a whole bunch of work and upgrades.
    So, please give me a few good examples of some bikes I could look into purchasing that I can turn into a "good" cafe racer - examples of a good "starting point." (Please, I'm not going to buy anything 'high end' for this first time project - IE Norton's, Guzzi's, and the like)

  2. #2
    Member sebwiers's Avatar
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    Seca was pretty much a factory built cafe racer.... but if your set on getting the 'empty under the seat' look, the Seca may be a bad bet - they reportedly don't like pods. Of course, you may be planning a carb swap etc, no big, and some people make it work. I have the Seca 750, is a nice bike, and the engine has a firm rep. Shaft drive isn't popular for top end performance, but works well in daily life.

    KZ550 can be dogs balls (the LTD version) or cats meow (the GPz version).

    CX500 engine is actually quite good, people mostly hate on them for the shaft drive, the ugly stock looks, and the fact that its (usually) a very cheap bike bought by cash strapped first time builders, and when given nasty cheap modifications to make a 'cafe racer', the results are predictably bad.

    My opinion, if the mods are well considered and you steer clear of 'cruiser' versions (or can deal with replacing the mis-sized wheels, under-power brakes, etc) any of those can be fine. Pick the best engine (or the engine you like best) and run with it.

  3. #3
    Senior Member TrialsRider's Avatar
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    You say you already own a new sportbike, what is it ? … if this is to be your second street bike, I should think something very different than what you currently have might hold greater appeal and have you riding it more frequently. I can see a current model Norton being considered 'high end' but I'm not sure I would consider a Norton Commando, Interstate or Moto Guzzi to be high end. Is this because you feel they are generally more expensive, or just find fewer of them to choose from in the used market ?:I


    If you lived up here, a vital thing to investigate is the insurance rates. Motorcycle insurance in Ontario has gone completely ridiculous in recent years. Inflated insurance rates are the reason we see so many large displacement sportbikes parked on peoples front yards with for sale signs on them instead of license plates. Just a guess on my part at the moment, but I would expect Moto Guzzi insurance to be relatively reasonable by comparison to most makes. Any bike I bought with the intention of modifying would be road certified and insured in strictly stock form first, then slowly modified over time, as both vehicle certification and insurance can be far more troublesome or costly to obtain up here, post modification.

    Personally if I had my choice of any early model bike to modify in a traditional CafeRacer style and performance spirit, that would be a Moto Guzzi with spoke wheels. Or pre-unit BSA Goldstar, or pre-unit Norton with single or twin vertical cylinders, and this would be purely for the nostalgia, not because they are tremendously practical motorcycles to ride. … Not sure if a Goldstar or vintage Norton's qualifies as 'high-end', but they certainly could be expensive.


    It's a very open question, so I think you are going to see the whole gamut of responses.

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  5. #4
    Junior Member BadCompany's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TrialsRider View Post
    You say you already own a new sportbike, what is it ? … if this is to be your second street bike, I should think something very different than what you currently have might hold greater appeal and have you riding it more frequently. I can see a current model Norton being considered 'high end' but I'm not sure I would consider a Norton Commando, Interstate or Moto Guzzi to be high end. Is this because you feel they are generally more expensive, or just find fewer of them to choose from in the used market ?:I
    Personally if I had my choice of any early model bike to modify in a traditional CafeRacer style and performance spirit, that would be a Moto Guzzi with spoke wheels. Or pre-unit BSA Goldstar, or pre-unit Norton with single or twin vertical cylinders, and this would be purely for the nostalgia, not because they are tremendously practical motorcycles to ride. … Not sure if a Goldstar or vintage Norton's qualifies as 'high-end', but they certainly could be expensive.


    It's a very open question, so I think you are going to see the whole gamut of responses.
    Hey! Thanks so much for the solid replies guys! My current bike is a Ducati 899, and while I absolutely see the validity of your first point, a cafe racer is just what I want. It would make more sense to go buy a cruiser or dual-sport really but I'm just somehow stuck on building a cafe over the winter...
    Anyway, that's good to hear that the Seca is a particularly good choice! I was thinking either that or the Honda CX500 as another V-twin is very alluring. If you don't mind giving me your personal opinion, this is one that's up by me. Would this be the 'right' kind of Seca? 1982 yamaha seca 650 turbo (grand forks) $1500 | 1982 Yamaha Seca Classic Motorcycle in Grand Forks ND | 3718945121 | Used Motorcycles on Oodle Marketplace
    Also, why is a Seca considered a Cafe Racer 'already?'

    I guess I never really looked for a Norton or Guzzi, I just 'thought' initially that one would be more expensive than a 'dime a dozen' Jap bike. Also, let me state that I'm not committed to any particular brand or type of bike.

    Thanks for the helpful posts!
    Last edited by BadCompany; 08-24-2014 at 07:25 PM.

  6. #5
    Senior Member hillsy's Avatar
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    A Guzzi or Norton is typically at a higher buy-in price, but then the value / resale is higher as well.

    Friend of mine had a Le Mans II that he'd modded out a bit:

    And whilst it wasn't particularly fast it handled nice and felt like you were riding a locomotive. It had gob fulls of "character" compared to your average UJM 4 cyl bike and it put a wry grin on everyones face.

    Having said that, out of the KZ, CX or XJ I'd pick the XJ. They are surprisingly revvy and nimble for a 550. But really, a good condition KZ would be the pick over a clapped out XJ, so it depends on the condition of the bike.

    The 650 Turbo is a bit of an oddball (along with the CX650 turbo, XN85 and GPz750 turbo). If you were looking at taking the bodywork off it it would look pretty weird.

  7. #6
    Junior Member BadCompany's Avatar
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    Good lord! That thing is f'ing cracking to look at!

    Let me just clarify that those were just a FEW bikes that were in my area. I'm willing to get one shipped! I'll buy a Suzuki or Moto Guzzi or Norton or whatever, those were just a few examples and aided as examples to my post. I also haven't had anyone say anything about BMW's so I assume they're not particularly great.

  8. #7
    Senior Member hillsy's Avatar
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    OK - any bike can be modified into what the modern meaning of the term "cafe racer" appears to be. But, there are better platforms to start with than others.

    Typically, a chain driven bike with a double cradle frame makes a good basis to start with. But you're going to get a million different opinions about this.

    Without knowing what your budget is, or your mechanical / fabrication skills it's kinda hard to point you in any direction.

    Just steer clear of bikes in boxes and cruiser variants of UJM bikes (like Kawa LTD's, Suzuki L, Yamaha Maxim and Honda C models) and you can pretty much build whatever you want.

  9. #8
    Junior Member BadCompany's Avatar
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    What does 'bikes in boxes' mean?

    What are good examples of chain driven bikes and double cradle frames?
    Here's that KZ: 1981 Kawasaki KZ650 Motorcycle $950 | Jamestown, ND Classifieds

    Is it a good example? Last questions and I'll leave you alone.

    I understand the differences in shaft to chain drive and I have a lot of mechanical experience. Sadly, it's primarily regarding cars, but I've got 7 months to do a few modifications to point it into the 'cafe racer' direction. I'm also fine with making it pretty cool, riding it over the summer, and doing more serious stuff next winter when I know the bike better and am able to pin point what I like and don't.
    I don't need amazing forks and Ohlin's rears with a totally overhauled 'this and that' right now. I'm absolutely function over form, but like I said, I don't need to drag my knees or shoulders and chase ZR1's, I have something else for that.

  10. #9
    Senior Member hillsy's Avatar
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    A bike in a box is that $100 bike you see that has been totally disassembled by some newb and he's either lost interest or found it too hard to re-build. They typically cost you more to get running / back on the road than if you bought the same running bike to start with.

    The bike you listed is a CSR which is a cruiser variant of the standard KZ650. It has a different frame, tank, seat, forks and a 16" rear wheel. All cruiser orientated stuff that you'll probably want to get rid of if you are trying to make a performance bike. Also, there's no mention of a title / registration / etc (this is pretty important to have sorted before you start pouring money into a bike).

  11. #10
    Banned Witworth's Avatar
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    Go get the Seca 550. Easy to café, a good bike. The most important thing is when you go into a corner @60MPH, you won't have that " What the hell am I doing on this damn thing moment". The chances are you will on a cafed Jap cruiser or a CX500, with the habits of riding your modern Duke.

    The "big" Guzzis are pretty good, avoid old Brit bike unless you want to devote your wallet and time to the old things: they were not that good in 1975, and they have not improved with age.

    Get the Seca 550, it's an ideal first café racer bike to play around with.

    Danger, is my business.

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